Hirono pushes for missile defense radar in Afghanistan hearing

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President Joe Biden’s administration has said that one of the reasons for the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan was the need to focus on the Pacific. Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono wants to make sure that happens.

Hirono grilled military chiefs on Tuesday over what the Defense Ministry will do with the money and troops released by the end of America’s longest war, specifically asking for a $ 1.9 billion missile defense radar that has been planned for Hawaii.

“The president presented the withdrawal from Afghanistan as necessary to free up time and money to deal with close competitors like Russia and China,” Hirono told Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during a briefing. Senate Armed Forces Committee hearing. “But this stated justification is somewhat, I think, at odds with the administration’s budget.”

With the troop withdrawal from Afghanistan complete, Hirono wants the Pentagon to pay more attention to the Pacific. Cory Lum / Civil Beat / 2016

The audience was on the end of the two-decade American intervention in Afghanistan and the future of counterterrorism operations.

Hirono noted that the Pentagon’s proposed budget for operations in the Pacific fell short of requests from the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command at Camp Smith in Oahu, which oversees all operations in the region.

The Homeland Defense Radar – Hawaii is a controversial missile defense project that Congress has continued to fund despite efforts by Pentagon officials to cut its budget to zero.

“Hawaii is protected,” Austin told Hirono during the hearing. “This is an issue that we continue to examine and we can be assured that Hawaii will not be unprotected.”

The latest congressional funding authorizes $ 75 million to support the continued development and eventual construction of HDR-H. The project divides, with supporters and detractors in Hawaii and in the military.

“I brought it up because this is the second year in a row that Congress has to restore that funding to keep it going,” Hirono said in a post-hearing interview. “The DOD continues to hold that we don’t need HDR Hawaii.”

Supporters see radar as an essential defense program, especially given the potential threat from North Korea, and say it has the potential to boost Hawaii’s struggling economy. ButThe keepics argue the system will be obsolete before it is completed and threatens local wildlife habitats and ancient Hawaiian cultural sites.

“I told DOD that I am very open to another program to keep Hawaii safe,” Hirono said. “But until you explain it to me, I’m going to keep pushing for HDR Hawaii.”

During the hearing, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth – a disabled military veteran and a graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa – announced plans to introduce a bill that would call for review impartiality of the failures of the war in Afghanistan.

Hirono supported such a move during the hearing, noting that serious failures have persisted for two decades across four administrations. “I was particularly interested in the lessons learned, as it is very clear that they did not have an accurate assessment of what was going on in this complex situation,” Hirono said during the interview.

The Biden administration has been criticized for the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan that saw Afghans rush to the airport, a suicide bomber that killed 13 US servicemen and dozens of Afghan civilians, and an American drone strike who killed 10 Afghan civilians.

A pair of boots is displayed at a memorial aboard Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Aug. 29, 2021, in remembrance of the 13 service members recently killed in Afghanistan.  The memorial, made up of donations from the community, was displayed at the entrance to MCBH.  (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Samantha Sanchez)
Boots line the road near the entrance to the Marine Corps base in Hawaii in remembrance of the 13 servicemen recently killed in the Kabul evacuation. Samantha Sanchez / USMC / 2021

Ultimately, Hirono said she was happy Biden continued with the pullout. “Obviously there are lessons to be learned in terms of evacuation, but I think the decision to get us out of this eternal war was the right one,” she said during the hearing.

Lawyers and lawmakers, including Afghan war veteran and Hawaii representative Kai Kahele, had asked the Biden administration to start evacuating civilians in the spring, to no avail. A mix of aid workers, veteran groups and others continued their efforts to try to get them out, communicating with stranded friends and colleagues through messaging apps.

More than 122,000 people were airlifted in a tumultuous effort by US military and commercial planes chartered by private groups. But a State Department official told reporters that “the majority” of Afghans who have applied for special visas for US allies have been left behind.

“We’re going to need to use other resources to do it,” Hirono said during the interview. “Because it will not be a military operation of the type we saw during the evacuation process. “

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